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Are Weight Loss Benefits Of Resistance Starch Misleading?

I had a client recently inform me about a recommendation that a registered dietician gave to her friend on consuming more foods with resistance starch.

Now granted I don’t know all the reasons why the dietician made this recommendation and I certainly don’t want to discredit the dietary prescription. However, the general idea my client took from the recommendation was perhaps she should do the same since they’re both focusing on weight loss goals.

Positioning resistance starch as a weight loss aid is a whole different story and something I don’t want to see people getting mislead with.

You may be asking yourself what in the world is “resistance starch?” This is a relatively new buzz word being thrown around by experts advocating the consumption of certain starches.

In short, resistance starch is simply fiber that passes through the small intestine without being digested. Instead it gets broken down in the colon by bacteria through a process of fermentation. When fermentation occurs the starch is broken down and produces a certain type of fat called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

One of the short-chain fatty acids that’s produced is something called butyrate. Advocates cite studies that show butyrate helps protect colon cells thereby decreasing colon cancer risk along with improving insulin sensitivity. I won’t contest this in context but there’s a bigger picture here to consider.

Let’s look at the foods which contain resistance starch.

The best sources include beans, whole intact grains, potatoes, and something called Hi-Maize corn starch. Here’s the kicker, foods like legumes and whole grains contain somewhere around 5% of their starch as resistance starch.

So while a very small portion of the starch can go to the colon and be fermented to produce short-chain fatty acids, what happens to the rest of it? You guessed it….the remaining starch is broken down in the small intestine to produce glucose (blood sugar) to be used as the body for energy.

This is where you have to be really careful about jumping to conclusions without looking at the big picture. For the sake of discussion let’s say that 5% of foods like beans and whole grains contain resistance starch which can help with insulin sensitivity, satiety, and glucose tolerance.

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What about the other 95% of their content?

If you’re overweight and suffering from insulin resistance or low insulin sensitivity, the last thing you want to be doing is loading up on starches. The excess blood sugar caused by the 95% that’s being converted to glucose in the small intestine can negate the benefit you’d get from the 5% that doesn’t.

This is NOT a blanket statement to say that you should never eat high fiber foods like legumes, whole grains, and potatoes. I’ve been on record stating a lot of this depends on individual factors like insulin sensitivity, energy demands, rate of metabolism, and others. Some people do well with these foods in their diets and others don’t, period.

I believe that ALL natural, whole foods can be beneficial; some just need to be consumed in moderation more than others depending on the individual.

Having said that…experience has shown me that individuals who are overweight typically have some degree of low insulin sensitivity or full blown insulin resistance. This means they tend to do better with less starch in their diet with more of the fiber coming from greens and plant sources.

The big take away lesson is that you don’t always want to take claims on face value and run with it. You need to experiment with what works best for you. There shouldn’t be a perception though that just because a food contains “resistance starch” that it all of a sudden becomes a weight loss “neutral” food. Unfortunately, I’m seeing this exact position being pitched.

I’ve written extensively on the issues that phytates and lectin found in grains and legumes can have with irritation and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. This isn’t to say these are “evil foods” and should be avoided at all costs.

It’s just a lot of people do tend to feel better and see better results with shrinking their waistline when these foods are cut back or eliminated from the diet.

My advice is to start with a Primal Blueprint type diet of mostly lean proteins, greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. This also includes adding fiber to your diet from things like psyllium husk or flaxseeds.

There’s no question from my research and personal experience that increasing fiber content in your diet is one of the most impactful things you can do for weight loss. I just wouldn’t recommend you get your fiber from eating a bunch of beans and whole grains if you’re overweight.

Start with a Primal Blueprint type diet as a foundation then you can add starches in with moderation and see how your body responds.

So there you have it…the inside scoop on resistance starch. The next time you see a food label or advertisement promoting this, you’ll know the whole story.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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Category: Nutrition.